I sit with my body across the couch, lean the side of my head against the back cushion and yawn. I sleepily focus on the parts of my body that are still strong and ignore, for a moment, the joints that ache. I think to myself that I am not entirely unhappy but that I would be happier if i could simply follow my heart today; if I could read and lie down and think and let myself feel that gentle dreamy melancholy that I sense just beneath the sleepiness.

I lift my head off of the cushion and look at the wall in front of me: a blank canvas for thoughts, feelings and daydreams. So much potential. What does it mean to feel lonely? Or, more specifically, what is the nature of this loneliness? It is made up of so many things. There is a dash of the primal loneliness of the abandoned child. There is a heaping tablespoon of the solitude of an adult living alone. There is a sprinkle of yearning to be close to specific people. And there is a splash of the unmet sensual needs of a very sensual soul. Hmmm. There it is on the wall in front of me. I take an eraser and start over. This time I decide to be more…visual.

I see Aut’s firm naked thighs in the afternoon light. I picture a crying baby in his crib alone. I see the lovely sullen face of a best friend in pain. I see a man walking around his apartment, doing what he needs to do to survive: chores, conversations with himself, catching glimpses of the tiniest loveliest things (little snacks to partially satiate a deeper longing).

I come back. To the pain in my knee. To the realization that I must gather myself and prepare to work. I steady myself. Dry the tears I wasn’t even aware I was crying. Clean my glasses. Eat a snack. I’m ready. I have to be.

I wake to a blood stained pillowcase. I pull it off the pillow and throw it in the hamper. I know I should soak it first but…I don’t care. I go to the kitchen sink to wash my hands and blood droplets fall from my nose and into the sink.

My heart aches. My knee throbs. My aches and pains mount. All of this is the banal despair of a single middle-aged man. I smile at the drama and the bad poetry of my incessantly bloody nose.

I drive to the super market and see lines of people down the block and through the parking lot. Thanksgiving shoppers. I decide that I cannot handle the stress of this, drive back home and place an online order for my father’s groceries to be delivered to him. I will make do with the frozen patties in my freezer.

What can I count on today? The morning sun comes in through my bedroom window. I can sit, let the golden sunbeams warm my feet, watch the cars pass and spy on the people at the cafe as they happily sip their morning coffee. What would they think if they knew that a person was sitting on the carpet of his bedroom floor watching them enjoy their morning?

What can I count on today? The football game starts at 10am. I can convince myself that it matters whether my team wins or loses. I can tell myself that meaningless things like this are important.

What can I count on today? Perhaps after the game I can put some pillows on the couch and try to get into my new book. Lose myself in another world.

What can I count on today? I can vacuum. I can watch the neat little lines the vacuum makes in the carpet and watch the dust and dirt accumulate in the clear plastic container.

Blood once again begins to leak from my nose as I write this. It is odd that my nose continues to bleed. I am no stranger to bloody noses but this one won’t stop. Interestingly, I feel no concern for myself. I feel…worried that I might stain something that I cannot afford to replace. Is that the extent of my worry? I check-in….yes, it really is.

So much is spoken without a single utterance. Her words say, “It’s okay. It’s happened to me before. Companies change insurance plans all the time.” But her eyes convey that avoidant look of someone who has learned to shut down their emotions for their survival. She avoids looking into the camera. She wishes to hide from me…no, from herself. I say her name gently. She looks at me. I look at her. She can see the warmth in my face and the fact that I feel sad to lose her as well. The tears begin to stream down her face. I believe the only thing I said was, “Yes, I know.” I recognize there is something lovely in this sadness, this grief. But it was not the time to celebrate her progress or the way she allowed me to matter to her. It was the time for a moment of quiet understanding.

This is what makes me a decent therapist. Perhaps the only thing that makes me one. I’m lousy with technique. I don’t know the names of my interventions. I have forgotten most of what I learned about theories. My mind doesn’t hold onto the scientific information it has gleaned from books and articles (the neuroscience and the human development stuff) because it just doesn’t work that way. I watch. Pay attention. I look into and behind the eyes, the mouth, the posture. Oh how often it is that our words betray our truth. But our faces and bodies rarely do.

I often watch my clients quietly. Somewhere in me I am registering their words (and actually storing them quite well in my memory) in case something in the content really matters, but mostly I am observing. I see the beauty in their pain and not just the awfulness of it.

I learned to observe at a young age; to read people’s faces, postures and tones of voice. I knew that my father’s “I’m tired” meant “I’m unavailable and unhappy”. I watched hopefully at first and then, eventually, hopelessly. I began to see that unavailability was the norm. I began to see that nobody could really say what they felt or thought. And so I learned to hold in what I felt and thought as well.

Perhaps the real reason I became a therapist (the reason that lurks somewhere behind the idealistic idea that I want to help people) is so that I could derive something from my watchfulness: an income; some intimacy to make me less lonely; a way of seeing that I can have an impact on others; a way to create some semblance of meaning. Why is it so taboo for therapists to hide their selfishness from other therapists? It is because I know my selfishness that I do not put it on my clients. It is because I know that I am needy that I do not ask my clients to meet my needs. Were I to disown my selfish neediness then what would happen?

Yes, the truth is that a big part of the reason that I became a therapist is because I am so very often lonely and sad. And the reason I don’t put that on my clients is because I know I am lonely and sad. I needed to do something positive with my pain. And so…here I am.

Shit, I’m out of time. I need to get ready for…you guessed it: my clients. I could go back and edit this and make it a “finished entry” but I don’t want to. I just needed to get this out of my system so that I could focus on the next thing. I think I’m ready for the next thing.

I enjoy the quiet plainness of my life. If I were rich and we were not in pandemic, I might travel a bit; but I can’t imagine that traveling would ever be my passion. I like staring out at the same street and waking up in my own bed to the scent of Trader Joe’s french roast coffee. I like getting take-out from the same three of four restaurants and eating while scrolling through the sports news. I like exercising early on a Saturday, showering and then cozying (cozying is not a word?!) up on my couch with a book or a comic by 12pm. But sometimes it all gets a bit lonely and the life I say I enjoy is the life I begin to dislike.

When I was an undergraduate at university I remember spending these long eight hour days on campus. I would use the time in-between classes to study at the library or dine alone at one of the campus eateries. The university had over 20,000 students and countless staff/faculty so it was easy to be invisible. I had one or two friends from high school that attended the same university but it was rare that I would run into one on a campus so large. Every once in a great while I would unexpectedly pass a professor or a classmate and they would greet me. When I tried to return their greeting my voice would often crack because I hadn’t spoken for….god….sometimes more than a day. I was so used to being quiet and alone in the crowd that I would literally lose my voice. It was quite a shock to the system to realize that I could be witnessed!

In some ways this is still my life. I go for so many days without seeing anyone that I lose my voice. I don’t know what to say or what to share. I feel more comfortable responding because I’ve spent so much time observing and watching and looking down from the balcony that I forget I’m a part of all of this. I forget that I’m in the world and not just watching it.

The thing is that I’m not complaining right now. I’m not feeling horribly about it. I’m just enjoying the process of describing it because for all the loneliness there is something quite lovely about it. I live a life that is not worth describing and yet that is what makes it enjoyable to describe. I can’t talk to anyone about the time I climbed Mount Everest or met the Dalai Lama. I don’t have stories about a time when I was so drunk that I woke up in the bus station of a different town. There is nothing that sexy about my life.

So what I have (in terms of lifestyle) is the ability to make do with very little. To lead a sensual life even when there is nobody to touch; to find beauty from an upstairs window. And this…I have this: a mostly unread blog. And yet…how perfect it is that even my blog is mostly invisible?! I would begin to worry if it were otherwise. Sort of reminds me of Mark E Smith (R.I.P.) of The Fall. I remember him saying after a few Fall songs charted in the 80’s that he “must be doing something wrong” if people were beginning to like his music. Ha! There I go, trying to romanticize my life by comparing it to that of an underground legend. Trying to make it sexy. For shame. For shame.

I yearn for stillness again. I want to read and occasionally look out at the sunlit mountains, at the palm trees that are finally at rest after their violent quivers.

_____________________________

I do not know how long I have been in the shower now. Far too long for a city in drought. It is a selfish shower. I let the warm water cascade over me but do not bother to clean myself. I want to stay here the way I wanted to cling to the bed this morning. It is not depression that compels me, it is the desire to be nourished in ways that do not incur risk.

_____________________________

I sit on the bedroom floor wearing my bathrobe. I bask in the placid warmth of the sunlight. I look over to my left and see a ladder on the carpet made up of sunbeams and shadows. I stand up and step on every rung. I imagine that with every step I ascend to a place of eternal serenity.

_____________________________

Showers and beds and books and windows and shadows…all of these quiet and private soul foods. They require nothing of me. They require no thought or analysis. I cannot fail them and they cannot fail me. But eventually I will want to hear the sound of human voices and I will pointlessly yearn to touch human skin.

_____________________________

I know how to be quiet and sensual in my own little world where nothing threatens me. That is both my gift and my curse. I can find contentment and occasional joy in these gentle private pleasures. And I can even translate them to others at times. I spoke to her last night. And she who I spoke to is someone who has experienced these things. But what she doesn’t know is that I know how to touch her, not because I have touched many, but because I know how to hold a pillow and smell a new book and enjoy the different textures of a burrito. I don’t think she could understand that even the way I took my shower today translates into the way I touch and kiss her torso.

Even as I say all of this I am not lost in fantasy. For with this comes an accompanying awareness that she cannot give that back to me. That we may have stilted and awkward conversations. That my private peace may be interrupted by violent, but quiet, inner turmoils.

______________________________

I decided to experiment last night. To answer her phone call in order to see what would happen if I let myself be authentic. It wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. I realize that I no longer have a need to be loved or understood by her. That I’m at peace either way. So I told her about the smelling of the book and how the idea of imagining a violently romantic death were my ways of feeling okay that day. She said very little. I realize that the quiet that came is something I have learned to expect. For much of my life I have lived quietly and then when I finally speak it is often the case that others look befuddled or at a loss for words. Later in the conversation she said she fantasized about stroking my beard. I stopped her:

“I know that you know me in that way. That your fantasies are about continuing to know me in that way. But I’m not really interested in talking with you about those things. I know you within the confines of the bedroom. And it’s great. But I don’t think I actually know you. Or rather, I do know you. But I know you because I have observed you and studied you and taken in your presence. Not because you have ever told me anything about you.”

Silence. I apologized more out of habit than out of sincere regret.

“No, it’s true. I don’t know you either. I want you but I don’t know you.”

“Yes. And that desire is blinding. I don’t desire you right now. I feel that desire on occasion but very rarely. What you’ve always left me with is curiosity. Who are you?

She paused and then said, “I don’t know. That’s what I’ve been working to discover lately. My voice. Who I am. I go quiet and I feel paralyzed. I have spent my life wondering so much of what others will think that I never actually share who I am.”

“Yes. I can feel that. But you just did it. You just told me something about you. And though I already knew that, it feels fresh because you are the one who told me.”

The conversation continued for another ten minutes or so. And when it ended I am almost ashamed to say that I felt very little. I don’t mean that I was numb or indifferent. I mean that…a part of me wanted to feel those old feelings: excitement over the connection or sexual desire or…a fantasy that I could chew on for the next few weeks. But none of that was there. All that was there was a some compassion for her and the realization that I had to return to my private little world.

I walk briskly down the sidewalk, the cold wind shakes the branches violently overhead. I imagine one of the creaky careening boughs breaking, falling directly upon my head and collapsing my body onto the leaf strewn pavement. Then, as if watching myself from above, I look peacefully and quietly at my lifeless body, a pool of liquid crimson expanding around my head. And for that brief moment the ache in my heart (the one that I have known since before birth) subsides. I feel…free.


The phone rings. It is her. I stare at the phone numbly and wonder what I should do. What could I possibly share with her right now? My primordially broken heart is not the stuff of “check-ins” but it is the only thing that feels true. I let it go to voicemail.

“I must have just missed you. I’ll try you again after work at 7.”

I whisper to myself over the hum of the passing cars on the street, “There is nothing inside of me that I could possibly share with you. There is only the ache. The steady familiar ache that longs for quiet and solitude.”


I pull the second volume of the book from its slipcase. A heavy scent of piney pulp fills the air. I lift the colorful tome up to my nose, close my eyes and breath it in. For the second time today, I feel a reprieve from the ache. I clutch the book in my arms and embrace it before setting it gently upon the shelf.


If I were to answer the call at 7pm, could I tell her that I have been of heavy heart today? That a fantasy about my violent demise and an erotic olfactory experience with a new book provided me with a few seconds of peace? No. But I can say it here. Here in this quiet place. In this quiet achy place that is all my own.

I don’t know. That’s the theme these days: I don’t know.

Yesterday I told four of my five clients (the ones whose personalities I knew would possibly be aided by my transparency) that I didn’t know how to show up for them at a time like this; that I didn’t know if I was any stronger than they were regarding the uncertainty. I don’t know that the sessions were any good, but I suppose I was authentically incompetent.

I don’t know how to write or talk about the silence that overcomes me with increasing frequency. When once it was as simple as calling it a “collapsed” or “depressed” state, it is now something else. There is a component of exhaustion to it. But that doesn’t quite do it justice. Somewhere in the middle of the week I fall into a sort of silence. I don’t really know what to say. I begin to look off into the distance more and reach for books and comics with greater frequency. Television shows begin to irritate me. I grow increasingly comfortable with solitude; so comfortable that it makes me uncomfortable. I begin to wonder how I could possibly allow others into this fortress and I fall into anxiety.

I don’t how to resolve this ambivalence within me. The way I want both to be left to drift away and die alone and, conversely, to have more connection. I don’t know how to answer the question “How are you?” I don’t know if I’m well or not. Probably not. I think. Maybe. I’m in a silent faraway place that is familiar to me and yet unfamiliar all at once.

Last night I dreamt that I was using sign language to communicate with my best friend. Somehow neither of us could speak and we were fluent in sign language. It felt so…right. I don’t know what it means. Maybe I don’t want to know. But I was at peace and when I woke up I wanted to go back into the dream. I was aching to go back into the dream.

I feel his granite hands wrap themselves tightly around my rib cage. I cannot breath. He lifts me up in the air as though I were a rag doll. I punch and kick with ferocity and somehow manage between gasps to curse at him with all the red rage that is within: Let me go. motherfucker! I will fucking kill you! His cold indifferent smile turns into an amused laugh. He squeezes tighter. Slowly the fight leaves my body. My spine and shoulders hunch forward and my head tilts downward. My limbs lifeless. Useless. He sets me down on the floor in the corner of a dark room. Defeated I lie there paralyzed. Helpless and alone.

My chest feels hollow and there is a sick feeling in the the pit of my stomach. These sensations are as old to me as…my life. Memories flash before me–dozens of them. The content of most of them doesn’t stick to me as much as the physical feeling of them. But there is one memory I cannot shake…

I was in the second grade and for whatever reason I had written my name on the textbook with a permanent marker. I cannot fathom why I did so given the fact we had to return our books at the end of each term; that they were school property. As the school year wore on I began to feel a sense of guilt that quickly morphed into an unbearable and secret shame. I hid myself in the bathroom and tried to scrub my name off the cover of the book. I carried this pain secretly within. I couldn’t let anyone know that I was suffering; that I believed the world was going to crumble away when I was discovered. I don’t recall how the story even resolves itself. My guess is that nothing awful actually happened. And yet…I suffered for weeks in this private hell. When I think about that little kid the thing that makes me saddest is the way he carried that pain inside like a dark secret. A little kid writes his name on a book and he believes he is the worst child who has ever lived. And he is alone with that. So very alone. He doesn’t believe that he has anywhere to turn so he turns back inside.

I carry within my bones the belief that I am bad. For all the work I have tried to do on myself throughout my life I fall back to this familiar place. It is as though my body refuses to let me off the hook. I keep turning back inside and thinking that something different will happen.

I am tired. I say this constantly: I am tired. What does it really mean to say that? To feel that all the time? It means that my body can only bear so much. So much work. So much uncertainty (within and without). So much loneliness. So much ancient shame. It means I’m tired of trying so hard to be “good” in order to compensate for this shame. But the moment I let my guard down then another ancient fear grips me: you will be abandoned for resting; for not trying hard enough to be good. And in swoops another familiar feeling: a burning in my chest; a restlessness in my limbs; a feeling that I have to do something or I will die.

I’m not sure that there is a point in sharing any of this. Does it bring relief to acknowledge these things aloud rather than suffer privately like the little boy? Does it make any difference to be able to voice these things? I don’t know if brings relief or if it simply keeps me stuck. But for right now typing this…doing something with my fingers…it is what stands between me and more sobs.

I clean the coagulated toothpaste-saliva-gunk that accumulates at the bottom of the toothbrush container with a soapy sponge. I occasionally rinse the container out to gauge the progress that the soap obscures. I’m almost there. Just a couple of more wipes from the sponge and I’ll be done. I remind myself to throw the sponge out afterward so that I can have a clean one for the dishes later. I rinse out the water container from my c-pap machine and look up at the clock on the oven. It’s 8:20am. I’m running late. Have to get the groceries and drop them off at my dad’s and then exercise. It’s uphill 100-yard sprints day. I have to do them. I felt too ill to do them yesterday so I have to do them today. It’s a duty. The kind that helps prevent heart-attacks and high blood pressure.

I drop the groceries off in my dad’s kitchen, go into the rotting moldy bathroom and apply sunscreen to my face and neck. I walk back into the kitchen and fill up two 24-ounce plastic cups with water, walk out the front door and set them in the drive-way in the shade along with an old raggedy gym towel. I feel nothing. Neither dread nor excitement. It’s the next thing to do. Like cleaning the gunk from the toothbrush container. I walk down the hill to begin my sprints.

By my second sprint my lungs feel like they are on fire and my left knee is throbbing. I can tell it’s going to be a slog. Three. Four. Five….Ten…Thirteen. Large gulps of water in-between. Groin and hips and lower abs are sore. The sun is burning my forehead. Just do the next one. It’s next thing to do. There’s always a next thing to do.

I hear applause as I position myself to run up the hill for number fourteen. The sun is in my face and I cannot discern the source of the applause until a middle-aged woman emerges from her driveway. She says she sees me doing the sprints from time-to-time and can’t believe I can run up the hill. “People don’t realize how hard it is to go up a steep hill like that”. I feel slightly annoyed but I recognize that there is a human being in front of me and that they are being supportive, friendly and conversational. I leave my body completely (it’s debatable how much I was there to begin with) in order to fulfill my duty as a “decent” human being. I don’t remember everything I said. Knowing myself I’m sure I humbly deflected the compliments and did my best to hide that I would rather not be speaking with her (not her specifically, but anyone really). Finally she leaves for her walk and I finish my last two sprints. I think back and imagine what an honest conversation would have looked like:


“Wow, I’m so impressed watching you run up the hill. People don’t realize how hard it is to go up a steep hill like that.”

“Thank you.”

“How do you do that?”

“I know that you’re impressed because I’m large but I have learned over time to accept these back-handed compliments as…compliments. I do it because it’s the next thing to do. It’s no different from wiping a shit-stained toilet or a cleaning a greasy pan. I do it because it’s the next thing on the list. I’m able to do it because I’m no stranger to emotional pain. I’ve felt so much pain inside that I’ve learned to bear a lot of pain in my body. I can will myself through almost anything. Well…most of the time. I couldn’t yesterday. I’ve gotten better at discerning pain from injury though. So please don’t worry about me. So yeah…that’s pretty much how I do it.”


I sit down on a shady patch of the curb in front of the house panting like an old dog. I towel off and I gulp my water. I feel no thirst but I am aware that if I don’t drink the 48 ounces that I could feel ill later from dehydration. Another duty. Another gulp. I finish off the water. Check. I did one more sprint today than last time. It was the next thing to do.

My father asks me if I’m hungry and I say I am even though I don’t feel it (it’s my duty to eat protein after I exercise in much the same way it is to drink water). He scrambles me up five eggs and heats up two corn tortillas. I devour them within two minutes and flip through my phone. Neil Gaiman says he thinks Netflix’s adaptation of “Sandman” is going to be good. Hmm. Maybe. I doubt it.

I go into the garage. I left my clothes in the dryer yesterday and I begin to fold them on the washing machine. I sigh. I lay the clothes gently in the laundry hamper and think about the rest of my day and how there is nothing I want. Nothing I desire. There is only the next thing.